UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

January 2015

UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter 2014 Year in ReviewThe dawning of a new year for many is about making resolutions. Some people want to eat healthier or lose weight. Others may want to quit smoking or save money. Here at the UPMC CancerCenter and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) we also make resolutions, to build on the work we've done this past year and the knowledge we've uncovered as we enhance our understanding of the complexity of cancer and work toward a future that is cancer free. From smoking cessation efforts to celebrating our strong tradition of volunteerism, 2014 was a busy year and leaves us with much to build upon.

Thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, some 14.5 million people are now living in the United States after a diagnosis of cancer. And that number is expected to grow. With that, the needs of cancer survivors are also growing and we are working hard at UPMC CancerCenter to make sure we're addressing those needs. We work in partnership with the patient's primary-care team to ensure that he or she receives both age-appropriate general medical care and cancer-specific follow up care that is tailored to the diagnosis, the treatment and the individual. We are working actively to make sure our evidence-based care plans are harmonized with emerging national guidelines on this critical front.

As UPMC's smoking ban took effect last summer, our faculty continued a proud tradition of being on the front lines of tobacco-related science. Hillary Tindle, M.D., Steve Shapiro, M.D., and I served as co-authors on the 2014 Surgeon General's report, which examined our progress in the area of tobacco control and our understanding of the overwhelmingly negative effects of tobacco on human health since the original 1964 report declared tobacco a health hazard. Many Pitt faculty members also lead tobacco-related research in a number of critical areas, including the impact of low nicotine cigarettes, casual smoking, and low-dose CT scanning for those current or past smokers who are most at risk for lung cancer. Early detection efforts using sensitive molecular techniques will be a dominant theme for the newly recruited co-leader of the UPCI Lung Cancer Program, James Herman, M.D., who joins us from Johns Hopkins to focus on epigenetic changes that characterize lung and esophageal cancers.

Thanks to support from philanthropic funds and UPMC support we announced that five UPCI leaders were recipients of endowed chairs. They were Drs. Patrick Moore, Yuan Chang, Jian-Min Yuan, Robert Ferris and Shivendra Singh. Their appointments were not only great personal accomplishments, but also noteworthy on an institutional level because it highlights our commitment to support high-quality medical research.

Dr. Chu, Dr. Brufsky, Deidre Cleary, R.N.Our commitment and excellence in this vital domain was also recognized in 2014 by the award of two major grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support our future efforts through the newly reorganized National Clinical Trials Network. UPCI was selected as an NCI Lead Academic Participating Site led by Adam Brufsky, M.D., Ph.D., and an NCI Experimental Therapeutics-Clinical Trials Network with Phase 1 Emphasis center led by UPCI Deputy Director Edward Chu, M.D. These important awards wouldn't be possible without our Clinical Research Services staff members, led by Deidre Cleary, R.N., who are on the ground in the clinics every day, educating and supporting patients and their families and facilitating the rigorous conduct of these clinical trials. Their energy and passion were an intrinsic part of our successful grant applications. UPCI investigator, Jian Min Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., also received a highly competitive NCI grant to support the infrastructure for continued follow up of two large population cohorts in Shanghai and Singapore. Knowledge gained about the development of cancer and other “Western” ailments in these rapidly changing Asian populations will also help to advance our research to improve health closer to home in western Pennsylvania.

Also on the international front, as part of a partnership to build a 21st century cancer hospital called the National Research Oncology Center (NROC) in Astana, Kazakhstan, UPMC cancer experts partnered with colleagues in Kazakhstan to hold The International Oncology Symposium there in September. NROC will open by the end of 2016, an important step in improving the quality of care for the nearly 35,000 people who are diagnosed with cancer in Kazakhstan every year. More than 200 oncology doctors and nurses from Kazakhstan and the surrounding region participated in a conference that was simultaneously translated in Kazakh, Russian and English.

UPCI continued its work to advance immunotherapy, a field championed by our UPCI founding director, the late Ronald Herberman, M.D. In 2014, we made several key transitions in our faculty leaders that will allow us to maintain our preeminence in this exciting field. Mark Shlomchik, M.D., Ph.D., of Yale University, was named chair of our Department of Immunology. An immunologist of note especially in the area of autoimmune diseases like lupus, Dr. Shlomchik moved rapidly to recruit cancer immunologist Dario Vignali, Ph.D., from St. Jude Cancer Center to serve as Vice-Chair of the Department of Immunology. We are delighted that Dr. Vignali joined Robert Ferris, M.D., Ph.D, to serve as co-leader of our UPCI Cancer Immunology Program. Already they are extending our reach into the study of the tumor microenvironment through collaborative work in labs across the university campus. Finally, in March, 2015, we look forward to the arrival of a third cancer immunology specialist, Warren Shlomchik M.D., an expert in graft-versus-host disease in stem cell transplantation who also joins us from Yale.

Our work is enhanced immeasurably by our community supporters. In November, about 100 volunteers, staff and leaders joined together in the Herberman Conference Center to recognize the extraordinary impact of 25 years of volunteerism across UPCI and the Hillman Cancer Center building. Our volunteers are often the first faces to greet visitors as they enter the Hillman and their work to make patients and their families feel comfortable is vital to the care we provide.

Our donors are also vital partners, and in 2014 we were touched again by the generosity of the Ladies Hospital Aid Society (LHAS). The group used its gala to raise funds to support the LHAS Orchid Fund, a patient assistance fund for non-surgical hair replacement for any medical reason including chemotherapy or radiotherapy-related hair loss. In October, about 900 people attended the Hillman Cancer Center Gala at CONSOL Energy Center, raising about $5.5 million for cancer research. It is because of the generosity of so many throughout western Pennsylvania and beyond that we continue making progress in the fight against cancer.

As we welcome 2015, we are grateful for all of our partners and our joint progress in the past year. We know that together–patients, families, clinicians, researchers, staff and supporters - we can do more than make a resolution for a world without cancer. We can one day make it a reality.